Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Well, it seems all the cool kids are talking about the riots in France, (to economize links I chose some of those because they link to other posts) so here goes.

This seems to be getting a lot more attention on the right than on the left, probably because it fits so much more neatly with their prejudices and fears, and they seem to waffle between blaming the riots on Islamofascism (TM) or the French welfare state. Schädenfreude abounds. Most likely of all, it's multi-determined, as Andrew Sullivan put it in one post. Fears of racism by the police were a spark on the pile of dry tinder of a permanent and disenfranchised underclass, with Islamic fundementalists pouring gasoline on it as they can... or something.

Of course, I'm writing about this much later than some and with no news of my own to report, but on the other hand, unlike most pontificators I've lived in France. I didn't think about the racism that suddenly everyone is saying is pervasive in French society, mostly just because I wasn't really exposed to it. I was relatively good friends with an Arab guy and also a black girl at the Lycée Clemenceau, and they weren't stigmatized in school, but it was one of the good schools in Nantes and the effects of racism are rarely that obvious anyway. So I have just two thoughts of my own about this.

One thing I did notice is that France's concept of political correctness is almost nonexistent. Two examples: comic books like "Tintin" are full of some really caricatured racial stereotypes and they're still mainstream and accepted, and a common slang word for "homosexual" is "pédé" - which is short for "pédophile." It may be coarser than "gay" (which also exists in French), but it's still common and not unprintable. No doubt the lack of PC culture is partly just due to the general French lack of prudery, but that can't explain it all. So I don't find it hard to believe complaints about racism just because the French (on their own soil) skipped the really bloody excesses of bigotry that most other places went through.

But as far as people suggesting that this is a general rejection of the French system of government, the most credit that could possibly deserve is "true but irrelevant." If that. Why? Because it wouldn't be the first time. Since the French Revolution they have had five republics, and a monarchy and a couple dictatorships too. While I was staying in France, I remember seeing newspapers raise the question of whether it was time for the Sixth Republic. The editors at Le Monde weren't thinking of this exact event, but let's just say it's not unprecedented.

There are a lot of valid criticisms of France, but apathy and political cowardice are not among them. So even if Paris goes down in flames - and by the way, not too likely - I don't think there are any larger points to draw from it. Other than "racism is bad, mmmkay?" The brewing intifada is just a menace in the minds of the culture warriors out there.

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